Athough any filmmaking entails making selections and possibly killing a darling or two, the short film format forces filmmakers to be even more to the point. What is possible in a 10, 20, or 30 minute short? How can you craft a story that will have some impact? What is the best way to use the limited time available? Or what kind of narratives benefit from a short time frame? The opportunity to watch a wide array of short documentary films, provided by the Go Short International Short Film Festival, fostered ideas about what actually makes shorts work, and what possibly doesn’t.

A film like Returns (7’) depicts preparations for the reception of the coffins of the victims of the plane crash near Smolensk in 2010, which killed the Polish president Lech Kaczyński. Polish military exit the plane, but without coffins… What we see is a short black and white choreography in which the soldiers take out the invisible coffins and place them on supports. Such a ceremony apparently needs to be rehearsed. A somber film that allows a rare peek into an otherwise invisible universe but at the same time shows the triviality of such an austere event.1
The Day We Danced on the Moon (11’) Director: Tristan Daws

In The Day We Danced on the Moon (11’) mental health patients travel to an arts festival in Ireland. They talk about what it is like to have a psychosis, with animation visualizing an alternative reality, and about how society treats them. We see them on their way and we see them perform. Visually the film is a bit messy, with various styles included, but that serves the points it addresses: the possibilities of these individuals despite their ‘impediments’, our own prejudices and short-sightedness, and a broader idea of what normality is and how it is constructed.

Tons of Passion (13’) is completely different, a charming ode to big demolition machines and their drivers. The men, who own their machines, talk about them in various ways but always from the heart. In movement, either in choreography designed for the film or at work at a demolition site, the machines are reminiscent of dinosaurs: Jurassic Park 3.0.
These three films do not investigate their topic but make a proposition or put something on the table – they make an observation the viewer can take and dwell on herself, in specific styles.

That style can be crucial is illustrated by What the Cat Sees (18’). A cat residing near the entrance of a hospital is witness to the comings and goings of patients and their families and friends, and to the breaks they spend outside, mostly smoking. This results in many interesting, funny and wise observations and overheard conversations. Unfortunately the film is not as true to its form as it could have been: there are many scenes in which people clearly speak to the filmmaker and a few in which questions are included. It breaks the unity of the film and with that the whole idea falls apart.

Pointe shoes are typically associated with the female: they are the ballet shoes that make it possible for ballet dancers to stand and turn on her toes. Making them is presented as handicraft in The Perfect Fit (9’). We see a ballet dancer’s movements in the shoes that provide both opportunities and pain and one of the craftsmen working hard to make the perfect shoe. His reward: hands bruised like a ballet dancer’s feet and a pinky thank-you letter.
The Perfect Fit Director: Tali Yankelevich

This kind of juxtaposing two sides the coin appears in more films, and is another way of putting something on the table by aligning it with a counterpart. In Framing the Other (25’) a Mursi woman of Southern Ethiopia and a Dutch tourist who visits her to take pictures are contrasted. The Mursi is a traditional tribe who allow tourists to photograph them for money. As a consequence, an industry has developed in which both play their role: tourists want something for nothing and the Mursi want to get the most out of it. We witness the protagonists before, during and after the ‘shoot’. We listen to their expectations, preparations and the inevitable disappointment: one is too stingy, the other too greedy. Although the topic could easily make for a longer film in terms of the impact of this development on traditional communities and how it feeds people’s desire for possessions, the film is effective in its juxtapositioning – although the inevitable indignation of course concerns the tourist rather than the Mursi woman. The film received a special mention from the Go Short European Competition jury.

In these two films, the contrast is obvious, in others it is less explicit.

An unsettling peek into the lives of two young men, Alex and Peter, who collect cans for a living, is provided by the film Faggots (32’). Alex shares the dreams he once had about his future, including having children; it seems outdated now. We see their daily struggle, eating whatever they can get their hands on and passing out from alcohol at times. The flipside of their harsh life is their love for each other, which still seems to be in the phase of discovery. The images are as raw as their lives, the filmmaker never hiding his presence on the scene, visually questioning their hopes and dreams and his representation of it.

An example of a film in which such a juxtaposition might have worked but doesn’t is Passenger (29’). It starts with a young girl noticing a tattoo on an older man’s arm, upon which he explains where it is from. This promising connection between young and old and the past and the present is broken when in what follows we see the old man telling his story to a film crew of grown-ups, who are included in the film itself in a somewhat artificial way. This happens while the girl is filmed on endless tram rides in Helsinki, contemplating the old man’s story. The dutiful inclusion of archive photos further ruins a promising narrative.

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